Sunday, April 18, 2010

E pluribus unum

Out of many, one. This Latin phrase is the unofficial motto of The United States of America. Originally it was based on the thirteen colonies becoming one country. Now it seems to mean the many peoples of the U.S., of the entire world really, all coming together as one. The melting pot theory. "Can't we all just get along?" kinda thing.

This post stems from a recurring memory over the past several months - perhaps even a year. A recurring memory of something forgotten. Someone forgotten. Not so much a memory but a nagging "the damn thing keeps popping into my head and I keep trying to remember but to no avail" kinda thing. All the while, it was right here buried in the archives of this blog - posted almost two years ago in June of 2008.

Yesterday, I Googled for almost an hour - "photographer who illustrates large quantities" ... "photographs that conceptualize large values" ... and many variations ... illustrative ... photograph/s/er/y ... "how much in a millon/billion/trillion?".

I was beginning to get frustrated, drawing upon nothing, not getting big numbers, not getting any meaningful returns in my searches. I almost gave up. (I wish I could remember the successful search string, but I can't now.)

I found the post from before a few minutes ago - on whim entering his name to search my blog. And there it was. Chris Jordan.

Chris Jordan. A UT [University of Texas] alum - UT, right here in Austin. Small world.

So Chris is an activist artist. Or activist photographer. Or activist/artist/photographer. He lets the image tell the story. He lets the viewer begin to get their head around the numbers that his images represent. The numbers they represent, and the world issue that they represent.

In this case, his 2009 work titled "E Pluribus Unum" is a five story high (I would say 4 stories) 45 foot x 45 foot mandala. That's 13.7 meters x 13.7 meters. The lines of the mandala are actually the names of 1,000,000 [one million] "organizations around the world that are devoted to peace, environmental stewardship, social justice, and the preservation of diverse and indigenous culture". In 10 point font.

If you were able to cut out all the names and lay them end to end, they would stretch 27 miles, or 142,560 feet or 43km. In 10 point font.

Lots of organizations - the total number is unknown. Jordan's work is based on Paul Hawken's estimation [in his book "Blessed Unrest" on the "movement movement"] that there are between one million and two million such organizations. Paul Hawken is named as a collaborator on the piece.

Chris Jordan is prolific. The TED talk I posted two years ago in 2008 was titled "Picturing Excess", and is based, I think, on his project "Running the Numbers :: An American Self-Portrait".

He came out with "Running the Numbers II :: Portraits of Global Mass Culture" in 2009. He has one from 2005 on Hurricane Katrina's aftermath titled "In Katrina's Wake :: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster". And "Intolerable Beauty :: Portraits of American Mass Consumption 2003-2005".

They are all on his website at I would have given the individual links to each work, but his website is not set up that way. You'll have to go clicking and reading and viewing on your own.

The post I did before was on his TED Talk - the "Picturing Excess" one. I included this quote which I lifted from the lecture:

"I have this fear that we aren't feeling enough in our culture today . There is this kind of anesthesia in America at the moment. We've lost our sense of outrage, our anger, and our grief about what is going on in our culture right now, what is going on in our country, the atrocities that are going on in our names around the world....they've gone missing, these feelings have gone missing..." [Chris Jordan]

Here it is - from February of 2008:

Be sure to check out his website and look at the all of the "Running the Numbers" works.

Here is the E Pluribus Unum work:

chris jordan e pluribus unum 1

chris jordan e pluribus unum 2

chris jordan e pluribus unum 3

chris jordan e pluribus unum 4

chris jordan e pluribus unum 5

chris jordan e pluribus unum 6

chris jordan e pluribus unum 7

chris jordan e pluribus unum 8

E pluribus unum. We are many, but we are one. Many peoples. Many nations. Many beliefs. Many forms of governance. We are one with the earth, and we have only one earth.

Until we start acting like it, acting like we have to take care of this planet we all live on - until we do that - we're in trouble. Once we do that, well, that's when the hard work begins.

Have a great Sunday y'all.

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